Central Bank Digital Currencies (Economic Affairs Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:07 pm on 2 February 2023.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 1:07, 2 February 2023

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, for his introduction to this debate. He presented an elegant precis of the document. The noble Lord, Lord King, touched upon the magic word “digital”, and I think that is absolutely valid. The word is sprinkled around our society as somehow modern—digital has been around for a long time but it is hopefully modern. Both noble Lords and my noble friend Lord Desai had cynical concerns that this might take off in an uncontrolled way. My noble friend Lord Desai also brought up the issue of the smaller and poorer people. In this whole debate about money, currency and so on, they are not very well represented, so it is important that people such as my noble friend, and to some extent me, always remind us that all these schemes have a levered effect, particularly on poor people who depend on cash.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made an excellent speech, as usual, with the idea of introducing balance in something of a headwind. I take from what she said that, whether or not one thinks CBDC is a good idea, government has a duty to apply appropriate resources to understanding this area. The benefits of a central bank digital currency, CBDC, which the committee alluded to, such as providing the Bank of England with powerful new monetary policy tools, should certainly be explored, but its conclusion—that it has yet to hear a convincing case for why the UK needs a retail CBDC—seems to stand up. The report speaks to the financial stability risk. On this Government’s watch, millions of British consumers’ savings have already been put at risk by the collapse of cryptocurrencies, and crypto-related scams have hit record levels. We have an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill which would compel the Government to update their decade-old national fraud strategy, and clearly digital currencies and related issues have to be considered.

Despite the real and tangible risks of private unregulated digital currencies, it seems the Government are committed to spending significant resources promoting crypto gimmicks, to great fanfare. I fear their exploration of CBDCs maybe a continuation of this pattern, wanting to innovate to distract from political turmoil over tax affairs and crumbling public services. Instead, I wish the Treasury would keep a red-hot focus on the cost of living crisis and avoid wasting precious resources on NFTs, for example, or on more consultations. What we need is action on consumer protection now.

Can the Minister enlighten us on how many Treasury and Bank of England officials are working on this during this most serious cost of living crisis? Are CBDCs appropriately prioritised? If the Government want to do something in this space, how about getting serious about building a robust regulatory regime that would attract fintech companies to the UK—a regime that would allow new companies to safely harness new technologies?